Is one really the loneliest number? Not always. There are many times throughout oneís day or week when being alone is happily anticipated. Sometimes one needs time away from the distractions of life in order to rejuvenate their mind or relax their body. Many use these moments of solitude to read, cook, listen to music, exercise or take a bubble bath. It is a time to reconnect with your thoughts, decisions, goals and dreams. When the act of being alone is no longer a choice or one finds they are alone more often than they would like - feelings of loneliness can surface.
Many people find themselves feeling lonely right after a breakup, divorce or death of a loved one. Friends or family may have moved away to start a new job, go to school or travel. You may have relocated to a town where you donít know anyone. Sometimes having a health issue or disability can lead to feelings of loneliness. People may be embarrassed by their disability and will tend to isolate themselves out of fear of judgement. And others may have a severe social anxiety and avoid social interactions at all cost.
We are social creatures by nature so being alone for long periods of time, when one desires social interaction, can lead to increased rates of depression, anxiety and even physical deterioration. Loneliness is a feeling of emptiness and being disconnected from other people. When one feels a psychological pain it is a message that an important need is not being met. As such, it is vital to find ways to increase social connections or find meaning and purpose in life.
There are several ways one can increase their social interactions and connection to the world around them. Volunteering at a local animal shelter, hospital or community center can bring great satisfaction and instill meaning. When one makes a positive impact on someone elseís life, they also make a positive impact on their own life.
Taking up a hobby such as ceramics, cooking, swimming, or hiking could add meaning and excitement to your life. Many local colleges and community centers offer low cost classes where you can increase your knowledge and expertise, as well as meet other people who share the same interests.
If you are experiencing a health issue or recently lost a spouse or family member, joining a support group can be extremely helpful. Meeting people who are having a similar experience as you can be quite comforting and you may make new connections and friendships in the process.
Exercise can have a positive impact on your physical and mental health. You can join a fitness club or take classes at a local yoga or aerobic studio. If cost or transportation are an issue, you can jog or walk in your neighborhood. Sunlight, movement and observing nature can greatly increase your mood. You may even meet a few neighbors along your path.
For many, feeling lonely is the result of a specific life event and is usually time limited. With the support of friends and family we begin to heal. A new job, a new friend or a new romantic relationship reignites our feelings of connection and meaning. But what about the person that is not able to heal and move forward?
There are people who experience severe social anxiety or social skills deficits that prevent them from seeking out social situations or finding success when they do. In this case more support may be necessary. Working with an experienced psychologist, therapist or counselor can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and assist a person with strengthening their communication and social skills. For people who are experiencing significant anxiety or struggling with deep sadness, medication may be indicated. While medication will not cure the experience of loneliness, it can be very helpful in temporarily reducing the psychological pain.
For those that live alone and have limited opportunities for social interactions owning a pet can be extremely therapeutic. Pet therapy is often used to aid people in their physical and mental rehabilitation. Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease stress-inducing hormones such as cortisol and increase endorphins that reduce pain. Pets, such as dogs and cats, provide nonjudgmental love and affection and can expand a personís focus beyond themselves; taking care of a pet helps one to feel needed and gives their life a sense of purpose. Owning a dog can also provide opportunities for social interactions. Taking your dog for a walk or going to your local dog park can provide exercise, fresh air and interaction with other dog owners. This can put a big lift in your day.
If you live in a development or apartment that does not allow pets, you can apply to have your pet classified as an Emotional Support Animal. This is different from a service dog in that no special training or certificates are required. All you would need is a letter from your psychologist or psychiatrist stating that you require an emotional support pet as part of your treatment for social anxiety and depression.
For those of you who have felt lonely at some point in your life, you may remember how difficult it was to take that first step toward healing. You also may recall how a kind word or gesture from a neighbor, friend or family member made a significant and positive impact. If you know someone that might be socially isolated or lonely stop by to say hello, call them on the phone or invite them for coffee. A small act of kindness can go a long way. When you make a positive impact on someone elseís life you also make a positive impact on your own life.